Saturday, August 21, 2010

We're Losing the War on Terror

What I see happening at the NWC tells me that we as a nation are losing the war on terror. As I suggested in an essay posted shortly after 9/11, if the terrorists succeed in making us give up our freedom in the name of security, then they've won. Most Americans have been told by their leaders that fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is keeping the war on terrorism off of American soil. Supposedly, were it not for our military operations in those places (that already have been responsible for more American fatalities than the 9/11 attacks), this war could be ongoing in America. That is simply not the case - the war on terror is being fought right here, right now! It's similar to Vietnam - military victories and defeats in Vietnam were inconsequential to the war being fought in America between those who supported the war and those who opposed it. The communists in Vietnam knew that if they continued to kill Americans, we eventually would lose our willingness to fight those battles. They were willing to sacrifice 20 or more Vietnamese for every American fatality, because they knew the important battle wasn't being fought with guns. That battle was fought with what was being shown on television news every night in American homes. How did the Vietnamese communists know that would work to get American troops out of Vietnam? Because they had studied history, including that of the American Revolution, where we used similar tactics to free the USA from England.

The war on terror is similar to the Vietnam war, in that the real battle is for 'hearts and minds' in the USA, not military success. If the terrorists induce us to become a police state, and/or a christian theocracy, then they've won the war!

This is just not a war that can be won by killing all the terrorists. For each terrorist we kill, for each muslim we persecute and disenfranchise, for each innocent non-combatant that dies, more terrorists spring up. Terrorism can't be defeated by military operations. The islamic terrorists aren't interested in invading the US, conquering us to turn us into a vassal state. They hope to turn us onto ourselves by convincing us that our freedoms put us in danger. They succeed not by military victories but by fanning the flames of our fear. We have a whole segment of our population that benefits from fear-mongering. They're encouraging us to give up freedoms that have defined us as a nation, simply for the sake of an illusion of security. Turning the USA into a christian police state won't make us more secure - it will be the fulfillment of the dark vision of Orwell's 1984. We can win this war only by conquering our fear.

Why have muslims left their homelands to come to the USA? I suppose this is seen by some to be a vast conspiracy, a fifth column festering within our borders, nests of snakes ready to strike when commanded by their muslim masters. But the reality is that most of them came to the USA to escape the tyranny of the theocracies running their homelands. They came to the USA for the same reason that most of our ancestors came to the USA - for freedom and for the economic opportunities they can develop for themselves, which they saw they couldn't have in their homelands. Any hidden terrorist cells within the American muslims must be a tiny, tiny minority. Persecuting American muslims by denying them the same rights all Americans are supposed to have only confirms islamic terrorist propaganda - that the USA has declared war on all of islam. It recruits terrorists.

At the start of WWII, the US shamefully interred Japanese, German, and Italian Americans (sometimes 2nd or 3rd generation Americans) simply because of their national origins. Not because they had done anything to cast suspicion on themselves. Just because they were connected, however tenuously, with governments with which we were at war. There was no attempt to sift the chaff from the wheat - all were guilty without cause or trial. This is a shameful episode in our history - a self-induced repudiation of the freedoms that we were at war at that very time to protect! It seems that today, some would have us follow that same path: to deny some of our citizens the very rights that many thousands of Americans have fought for and died to preserve. Martin Niemöller once wrote:

  • They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
  • Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
  • Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
  • Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.

I repeat: it is our freedom that terrorists fear the most. Not our guns, not our bombs, not our technology. It is by standing as a beacon of civilized light in a sea of barbaric darkness that we Americans can defeat terrorism. We can't win by killing. We can't win by imposing ever-tightening security on ourselves, limiting our freedoms for the illusion of protection. We can't win by becoming mirror images of our enemies. The only thing we really have to fear ... is fear itself!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The wasteland

Almost 50 years ago, the former head of the FCC, Newton Minow, described television as a "vast wasteland". As time has passed, I can't help but agree and point out that things haven't improved as the technology has advanced. I was watching a program on the History Channel tonight about the notion of "The Gates of Hell". I suppose it's possible to stretch far enough to consider this topic potentially worthwhile for a historical review, but the program as produced seemed determined to offer as much pseudo-scientific evidence as possible for the reality of Hell; that it was a real physical place where sinners were tormented for Eternity. Had the program chosen to provide a review of the history of the concept of Hell, then it might have been a valid presentation for what I think the History Channel should offer: history! Unfortunately, the producers seemed determined to push forward the manifestly religious agenda of the reality of Hell. Oooooo! Scary!! It even went so far as to reinforce the notion that the craters of volcanoes and other real-world geophysical locations were plausible as real entrances to the underworld of Hell.

The whole suite of programs (including the History Channel and the Science Channel) falling under the aegis of the so-called Discovery Channel, and their imitators, have been steadfastly pouring out this sort of television trash, even as the scientific and historical literacy of Americans continues to plummet to new lows. Is there any wonder that more and more people turn to myths and mumbo-jumbo? Many, perhaps even the majority, get their ideas from a medium they trust to dispense information, when what it really dispenses is sensationalist crapola as an excuse to push insurance, beer, cars, and loans through the eyeballs of the viewers directly into their barely-functional brains.

There was another entire program at the same time tonight, on a different channel obviously, about Area 51, another topic of apparently great interest for the scientifically illiterate, indulging in the childish fantasy world of UFOs and alien visitations. There were testimonials on that program about the legitimacy of the rumors concerning alien visitations being investigated by the US Government, and other similar hogwash. Again, the implicit message is that this balderdash is reality. Stay tuned during our adverts for the next installment of irrational trash.

TV news has descended into a realm of self-indulgent reportage, devoid of any commitment to journalistic ideals. The line between editorial content and real news has been blurred to the point where most can't tell the difference between the actual news and the babblings of pseudo-pundits - politically-motivated hacks masquerading as journalists, or experts in something.

I find the entire notion of "reality" shows as having stepped off into Orwellian NewSpeak: they're absurd nonsense that has virtually no connection with reality. I find it astonishing and disappointing that anyone feels they're entertained by this drivel. Game shows, sitcoms, soap operas ... all pure, Grade-A, nuclear waste for the brain.

I enjoy watching some sports events on TV, but I find myself so frustrated with the obligatory commentary and grotesquely exaggerated hype, the monumental stupidity of the same old questions being posed to athletes: How did losing make you feel? How do you respond to your critics? Do you feel any pressure coming in to the big game? And of course, the endless adverts ...

On cable, I have scores of movies to choose from ... and mostly nothing worth watching.

Dotted here and there amidst the desert of nonsense is an occasional oasis of rationality, or real information, or entertainment. Somehow, the Daily Show survives and represents the only news worth watching. Occasionally, some reasonably informative science documentaries are produced, despite being drowned out by the howling mob of misinformation. But Newton Minow's comment still applies today and apparently the public has such an appetite for rubbish, the wasteland will never change. It's a formula that works, I suppose.

It might be that I'm the one with a problem. There's a simple solution, naturally - don't watch it! Sometimes I find myself drawn to watch certain programs, despite my anticipation that I'll be frustrated by them - it's sort of a morbid fascination, perhaps, with what the producers are going to do with a nominally interesting topic. It is amusing to see how bad a program can be, at times.

Hallowed ground? Really??

Given the brouhaha about the "mosque" (Actually a community center) being proposed near ground zero in NYC, there's been a lot of incredible claims about Ground Zero being "hallowed ground". According to, to be "hallowed" is to be "regarded as holy; venerated; sacred". Isn't this more than a bit hyperbolic? Yes, Lincoln used such florid wording regarding Gettysburg when he dedicated the cemetery there during the Civil War, so I suppose it's natural to expect politicians to exaggerate for the sake of their political well-being, but is this ground really sacred now? Really??

There have been proposals for new commercial buildings to be erected on the site, so it seems to me that the site where the World Trade Center (WTC) once stood can't be all that sacred. Where were the priests of this "holy" site, whipping the masses into a frenzy when those proposals were being discussed? I note that no one has proposed putting a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the Gettysburg battleground site - it's been preserved more or less as it was in 1863. They didn't put a Radio Shack into the location where the OKC Murrah Building once stood - rather, they made it a national memorial. That is secular consecration. Just how "venerated" can the WTC site truly be if we can countenance erecting commercial buildings there? This should be a complete non-issue, and it would be just that were it not for the crass behavior of politicians, using religious terminology to mold public opinion.

Somehow, we're supposed to be outraged by a Muslim community center being built many hundreds of yards from the WTC site. The putative "holiness" of the site where this community center is to be built is on pretty tenous footing. It used to be a coat factory, for pete's sake! The absurdity of this nonsense is simply a reflection of the christian nationalist party (CNP - aka republicans) and its media cheerleaders (Faux News) seeking to make political capital of this non-issue. The intentionally religious tone of this campaign transparently seeks to pit the christians (the majority) against the muslims (a minority). The majority christians are being manipulated to repudiate our Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom - a very dangerous first step toward the breakdown of our traditional American separation of church and state. For the sake of political gain by the CNP, Americans are being encouraged to sanction the same sort of state-supported religious persecution that muslim theocracies visit on their people. Shouldn't we be held to a higher standard than those theocracies? I guess it's the biblical "eye for an eye" policy, but it puts us on equal footing with them, right down there in the barbarous dirt. Ignorant Americans are being encouraged to commit hate crimes and visit mistreatment on all muslims here in the USA. This is simply shameful.

I'm not that big a fan of islam, in the name of which many barbarous acts have been committed, anymore than I'm a fan of christianity, which has its share of barbarity to rationalize - however, the emotional manipulations of the CNP and the so-called "tea baggers" in this episode are both illogical and detestable. The non-radical muslims have themselves to blame for some of this, unfortunately, by failing to repudiate, in the strongest possible terms, the actions of their religion's extremists, which is typical of all religious moderates, it seems. But that's no excuse for what's happening in this sorry episode. Assuming our freedoms can survive this current attack, we'll look back on it the same way we now feel about our treatment of Japanese-Americans in WWII ... with shame at allowing our emotions to overcome our reason.

How much confidence do we really have in our nation and its ideals if we can't tolerate the building of a place of community activities at the site of a former coat factory? The whole point of protecting the rights of minorities, even minorities who would repudiate our values if they came to power, is that we believe freedom is the highest political value. If we believe that, then we have no need to fear the rantings and denunciations of some radical group. We have no basis for this irrational fear, unless we've lost confidence in the very ideals that are the foundation for this nation. Some politicians (and their media allies) are exploiting our fears to incite the mob for political expediency. Democracy without protection of the rights of minorities becomes the tyranny of the majority, which our founders recognized and hoped to prevent. Sacrificing our freedoms because we're afraid is handing victory to the terrorists! This is precisely what they want!

Calling the WTC site "hallowed ground" is irrational and disgusting, done cynically and with intent, simply to whip the great unwashed masses into a frenzy and sweep the CNP into power in the next election. Wake up, people!! You're being used. And our freedom is in danger, not from the terrorists and certainly not from muslims in general, but from the fear being used by politicians for their own selfish ends.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The grass is greener ...

... outside my property lines! Green grass lawns are a nearly ubiquitous element of middle-class suburban America, and have been all my life. I grew up mowing the lawn of my folks' huge yard with an unpowered push mower, which taught me an undying hatred for green, healthy grass. I've really disliked mowing lawns most of my life - we lavish time and money on them, watering and fertilizing them so that they grow fast, and are 'rewarded' by having to mow them more often! It seems like a really stupid treadmill, siphoning resources for the sake of a green monoculture that has little redeeming value. It offers only a carpet of green, at best, with no flowers and no edible product to repay our expensive attention. It does nothing for us, and yet demands much from us.

When we lived in Colorado, I found whole neighborhoods (including ours) where the dominant type of lawn was Kentucky bluegrass!! This seemed just about the apex of irresponsibility and/or stupidity for those within the arid rain shadow created by the Continental Divide to our immediate west. The only way to keep such a lawn from croaking during the summer was to water it virtually every day. The house we bought already had a sprinkler system, and I struggled on a regular basis to keep it working, just so that I could mow my beautiful green pasture as frequently as possible. The enormous waste of water associated with the prevalence of such lawns still rankles me, years after gratefully putting elitist, hypocritical, yuppie-dominated Front-Range Colorado in my rear view mirror.

This year, another hot, dry Oklahoma summer is deep into its doldrums, although today we're enjoying a temporary modest abatement of the heat. Triple-digit temperatures and weeks without significant rain are turning my yard's Bermuda grass into a wonderful light brown shade. Bermuda doesn't die for lack of water, though - it just goes dormant, to resurrect itself should copious rainfall return in the fall (which it often does here). I'm devoted to not watering my lawn, even as some neighbors stubbornly water theirs on a regular basis. Of course, the crabgrass is a lot more tolerant of dry weather, so some patches of green remain in my lawn, despite my intentional neglect.

In some years (like last year), we have a relatively cool, wet summer and the grass stays green all summer and well into the fall, smiling sweetly in the face of my willful negligence. I'm perfectly willing to let the grass grow, though, as we now pay someone to mow it regularly for us. But I'll do nothing to help it persist through a hot, dry summer. If it were entirely up to me, I'd seed our yard with native grasses and wildflowers - turn it into a miniature shortgrass prairie preserve and let wild creatures have a refuge to tickle their species' memory of a time when stupid humans didn't force pointless monocultures over vast regions to satisfy some completely inexplicable desire for having a golf course-like environment.

Don't get me started on golf courses, though. Ecological obscenities at best, and completely detestable when created in arid or even semiarid climates, just for the sake of what I see as a game with no point. But I digress ...

What's really annoying is that city ordinances and neighborhood covenants insist that lawns be mowed and that wild plants not be allowed to prosper according to their own abilities to cope with our continental climate. I've toyed with xeriscaping, but have been overruled by higher authority ...

Nevertheless, I'll never give up my wish to be free from the suburban American standard that imposes green lawns on me.